For several weeks I was very anxious to meet with Paul Danjuma. My interest to meet him stemmed from reading a document he had sent to my office at the prompting of a mutual friend, Tunde Fagbenle, the popular newspaper columnist.
I receive tons of letters and proposals of all sorts everyday. So, I have developed a method of quickly separating those that interest me from the ones that don’t. In short, when I see a good proposal I can smell it from a mile away. Danjuma’s document was one of such.
I looked at the document and could swear the author had a duplicate copy of my mind. He captured, very clearly, the importance of lush, green grass turfs in football development beyond the present levels that Nigeria seems unable to rise above for decades.
In all the years since I retired from active football and ventured into the sports business, I have not seen a better-articulated narrative of, perhaps, the most important issue in the challenge of taking Nigerian football to the highest levels. Paul Danjuma dissected the subject matter with the clarity and dexterity of one who is conversant with it inside out!
In my humble opinion, the greatest hindrance to the elevation of Nigerian football to the levels where we can start to compete with the real global giants with the genuine hope to defeat them, is the general poor state of the football grounds in Nigeria for training and matches.
Nigeria’s global victories at Under-17 level are pointers of the country’s enormous potentials. At Under-20 level, although Nigeria has never won the global FIFA trophy, the country’s teams have consistently shown also they are in the periphery of the top.
It is at Under-23 level that the best evidence lies that, in the not-too-distant future, the country can attain the highest level of the game and join the small league of World Cup winners!
It is at this level that Nigeria won the Olympic Games gold medal in 1996 and established the most reliable indication of her closeness to the top.
Nigeria needs to tip over the thin line that separates it from attaining its maximum potential, a line that requires a subtle change in attitude, of injecting a missing ingredient into the DNA of Nigerian football in order to be able to make that final climb to the top.
PAUL DANJUMA’S PROPOSAL BROUGHT IT HOME TO ME
He has been constructing and managing golf courses all his life. What is required to achieve the greens in golf courses would make the greens of football grounds look like child’s play!
Watching Nigerian teams play on artificial turf and all manner of other bad surfaces leaves him utterly flustered and frustrated. He tells me he knows clearly what to do to elevate the standard of Nigerian football to the highest global level because the state of Nigerian football grounds defines the international level of Nigeria’s football! The grounds reflect the level of the game.
I agree with him completely. I have been pointing this out for decades and no one seems to understand or appreciate just how critical it is.
Walter Gagg, FIFA’s former Technical Director visited Nigeria several years ago. We watched a football match together at the Onikan stadium, newly refurbished then for the 1995 African Youth Championship. He declared as we watched the match that the standard of domestic Nigerian football is comparable only to that of the fourth division in Europe, and that Nigerian football needed to address the fundamental issue of grounds for the game to free itself from the ‘prison’ that has held it back from rising above the level it appears to have settled!
The man on the street cannot fully grasp the full import of his assertion, to him a football field is a football field. But I did not expect that Nigerian football administrators would not.
What has happened instead since then is the proliferation of artificial grass, beautiful to the ordinary eye but a great set back for football development at the highest level.
Several sports administrators sold the country a dummy by claiming the fields are FIFA approved when in reality they are conduits for enriching themselves and their FIFA collaborators to the detriment of the country’s footballers and millions of Nigerian youths that lose out on the opportunity to benefit from a growing global business of grounds construction, maintenance and management!
This is the disturbing fact – no team can get to the very top of world football without the best turfs to provide the venues for meaningful, ceaseless practice and performance! A playing surface is so important that Barcelona FC, or Arsenal FC, or any one of the big clubs and countries in the world, will never come to Nigeria and agree to play on the ‘beautiful’ Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos, or any one of the several stadia with artificial pitches scattered all over the country and still ignorantly sprouting!
Barcelona FC will come to Calabar, probably because it has Nigeria’s best known grass turf, and play like school children, because it is far from the standard required at the highest levels of the game! They will not be able to string together all those passes and movements that make them the best football club in the world.
That’s the reality we must face. Clubs and players can only rise above the present levels of football, and start to understand and play football based purely on team strategy and tactics, when the grounds that will make these achievable become available.
Nigeria shall not become a global football power and cross the final hurdle that separates it from its full potentials, until we install proper fields with excellent grass such as can be found on the Greens of Ikoyi Golf Club in Lagos and the IBB Golf Club in Abuja!
So Paul came to my office and for one hour, reminded me about what I have been preaching to deaf ears for many years! It is so simple, it is too good to be true!
The artificial turfs proliferating around the country in our various stadia are really anathema to development of the best of football.
Paul is a professional grass turf constructor and groundsman with over 3 decades of actual practice in the industry. He is preparing to take the experiences he has gathered from his work in Europe and America and in constructing and managing miles of green lush flat grass golf courses in Nigeria into the construction and management of thousands of football fields scattered all over the country in primary and secondary schools, tertiary academic institutions, clubs and academies, Local government, State and even the Federal Government facilities – tens of thousands of grounds that will create employment, jobs and unique skills acquisition opportunities for millions of young Nigerians for years to come!
Paul Danjuma’s ambition is to serve Nigeria by elevating their national sport to new heights and in the process engaging and empowering the country’s wasting youths for decades to come!
It is all so simple, that it is hard to believe that the small matter of football grounds can impact so massively on the business of football and on the youths in the country. Yet it is all so true.
Danjuma comes at this time with the knowledge and experience that compliment my passion as we attempt to stop the rot and turn things around. We shall soon embark on taking the message to all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria, empowering Nigerian youths with the knowledge and training to prepare them for a useful role in promoting their country’s number one sport.
Finally, Nigerian football stakeholders must wake up from their slumber and see clearly that football grounds are an essential catalyst in the process of taking Nigerian football to the global pinnacle.